Disappointed Hibs boss Pat Fenlon today insisted his players had “nothing to be ashamed of” after having their Scottish Cup dream shattered yet again, Celtic’s 3-0 Hampden victory meaning it will now be at least 112 years since the Easter Road outfit last had their hands on the trophy.
Fenlon admitted the SPL champions were better on the day and, while he had no complaints about the final scoreline, he declared his team’s performance in their second successive final bore no comparison to the humiliation by arch-rivals Hearts a year ago.
The fact that more than 20,000 Hibs fans remained in their seats beyond the final whistle to acclaim his side was proof that, although their hopes had once again been dashed, they recognised the effort and commitment shown by the players. He said: “The boys were down, they knew they’d worked tremendously hard. I told them they had nothing to be ashamed of. We were beaten by the better side and sometimes you just have to accept that in football.”
Pointing out that Celtic had completed their SPL campaign with successive 4-0 wins over St Johnstone and Dundee United, Fenlon said: “They are a good side. The extra quality they have comes through. When they get chances they do not miss too many. Take his two goals out of it and Gary Hooper probably has not done loads in the game but they were great finishes. That’s the type of player he is, that’s the quality he has.”
For his part, Fenlon was left to bemoan an early opportunity which went begging for his side, Eoin Doyle powering a header straight at Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster after just six minutes as the Capital outfit appeared to have Neil Lennon’s team rattled.
Hooper got the first of his goals just two minutes later, adding a second in the 31st minute to leave Hibs hoping against hope. Fenlon said: “If Eoin scores that’s what you want, to turn their supporters against them a bit. They’d get edgy because all the expectation was on them.
“We’d started the game well, that’s what you are looking for as a player, you get stronger and stronger confidence-wise. We knew you don’t get a lot of chances against Celtic, you get one or two and you have to take them and we had another when Leigh Griffiths got past Forster but he was right on the line and the angle was too tight.
“Their goal knocked us a bit and maybe for ten to 15 minutes we didn’t handle that which was disappointing.”
Having started with a formation of 4-4-2, pushing teenage winger Alex Harris down the right, Fenlon changed to a
4-5-1 after Hooper’s second goal, explaining: “They were getting too much room on our left so we tried to get to half-time at 2-0 and see if we could have a go again in the second half.”
Again, Hibs had half-chances without really threatening Forster’s goal before Joe Ledley killed off any chances of a Falkirk-like comeback with a third goal 11 minutes from time. But even so Fenlon was delighted to see the supporters get behind his team right to the final whistle and beyond.
He said: “You can’t fault the fans, they know when players have worked and put in a shift. I think we contributed to the game, it was totally different to last season so I am proud of the players and the supporters – they were magnificent.”